A Day Of Writing Fun

This is an extract from an article called Words Of The Wise, which I wrote for the Central Coast Seniors Newspaper – Over 50s Lifestyle – back when I was Kathryn Andersen.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of facilitating Writing For Fun workshops for school students during the holidays, on behalf of Gosford Fellowship Of Australian Writers. What follows is my account of how the day unfolded…

Anticipation was high. Thirty-one children between the ages of seven and eleven piled into the Spike Milligan Room at Woy Woy Library.

Four senior women were there to greet them. They had already arranged furniture and organised treats for their young guests. They had also spent weeks organising the event.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it is worth it,” one of them said.

It was difficult to tell who was the most excited, and in some cases, anxious.

Names were marked off, parents took their leave, and young bodies settled at tables with unfamiliar companions.

One of the women welcomed the newcomers and introduced me as the tutor for Writing For Fun, a free workshop organised by the Gosford branch of the Fellowship Of Australian Writers (FAW).

“We want to encourage young people who enjoy writing,” Bridget Sharp said.

Bridget and fellow-FAW members, Sheila Drakeley, Helen Luidens and Joan-Marion Ben, handed out writing paper and colourful pencils to the children, distributed cordial and biscuits, and were on hand to assist me and the children on their writing journey.

The women mingled amongst the aspiring writers, giving them guidance and support. Some of them even worked side by side with the children, to complete the writing exercises themselves.

Children who thought they had no ideas found they had several and were soon putting them on paper. Others, who had thought they could get ideas but not put them to use, were soon developing poems and stories.

The morning passed in a flurry of word associations, Ezra Pound Couplets, Dylan Thomas Portraits, character profiles and the antics of clowns.

Then, as quickly as they came, the children were gone; bearing packets of chips, their pencils, the fruits of their labour, and colourful certificates.

This was round one for the FAW women. Fresh mugs and more biscuits laid out and the room again readied, they grabbed a quick bite before the arrival of eighteen more writing enthusiasts aged between eleven and fourteen years.

This time, writing pens were issued with the paper, ideas became more ideas and then titles to be drawn from a box and written about. First lines were explored, much work shared, and questions about getting published were answered and discussed.

The FAW representatives distributed information about suitable competitions. “Enter your work in competitions and try to get your writing published,” the children were told.

Both groups of students were asked to share previous writing successes. There were many, among them a proud Astrid Worboys told of winning a prize in the ‘Spike Fest’, run by the Bouddi Society last October, with the limerick she had written at the previous FAW children’s workshop. Her prize was a parcel of poetry books and the opportunity to recite the winning limerick at the cavalcade of prize-winners towards the end of the festival. Nine-year-old Astrid’s limerick was included in a book of winning entries published by Gosford Council, and she also read it on Central Coast Community Radio.

“I’d say that was another successful day,” Bridget Sharp commented as five Over 50s (tutor included!) watched the last of the happy participants scurry from the room.

Fair comment indeed, as it was Bridget who taught the limerick session at the children’s workshops the previous year!

Generous Tradition

This is no ordinary Christmas cake. It is a cake baked with love by one beautiful woman (my sister Jen) in honour of another wonderful woman (our mother) and given to a very grateful woman (me). But this is just a fraction of the story…

My mother cooked a special cake every year – and in earlier days, Christmas puddings with silver threepences and sixpences sprinkled throughout for good luck. The tradition of coins in the puddings ended with the advent of decimal currency in 1966, when cupronickel replaced silver alloy and the coins turned green if cooked, but Mum’s delicious Christmas cakes continued until her death in 1991.

Then Jen set herself the challenge of baking Mum’s cake for each of her siblings every year. With four surviving siblings besides Jen, scattered far and wide down the east coast of Australia, this undertaking also involved packaging for safe posting among Christmas mail.

Twenty-six years later, my 2017 gift from Jen arrived last week, solidly steady in the centre of a post box tightly packed in foil and surrounded by bubble wrap… as it has been each year.

Jen gradually added others to her list of recipients of this generous offering. Last Christmas, she made twenty Christmas cakes – for her siblings, her partner’s siblings, adopted siblings, friends, and a couple of extra cakes to keep on hand for visitors and herself.

That’s a lot of Christmas cakes in just over a quarter of a century!

Jen still uses Mum’s unique recipe and has also adapted it for those in the family who must be totally gluten free. Regardless of which version of the recipe Jen uses, the cakes are delicious… superb… and loved by all.

My gratitude goes to Jen for her thoughtfulness and generosity, and above all for establishing and continuing this tradition in honour of our mother.

 

Subtle But Strong Inspiration

There is a level of inspiration more subtle and yet more powerful than the boosts we receive in our everyday quests for creative stimulation. This is the degree of connectedness reached by some who think of themselves as ordinary people, but are in fact remarkable in some way. When you encounter such a person, their beacon shines, your heart sings and you feel like you can also achieve anything you set your mind to accomplish.

Dot Strong springs to mind. In 1970, Dot walked away from a drought-ridden property in western New South Wales and headed to Sydney with just an old station wagon and a few clothes. She found work as a cleaner at one of the Australian Broadcast Commission buildings, and slept in her vehicle in the backstreets of Darlinghurst for months to give herself a chance to recover financially. An executive eventually helped her into a small flat after he caught her showering in his suite early one morning, when she thought no one else was in the building.

With time, Dot took up the position of tea-lady. In this role, she served many entertainment industry personnel and other celebrities. She sang the praises of most and was smitten with Kamahl, who she said was a perfect gentleman. I agreed, having crossed paths with Kamahl myself briefly in Tasmania in 1972.

When I met her, Dot was about to retire and the ABC was moving to a new building in Ultimo, where the mezzanine cafeteria was to be named in honour of her as their last and longest-serving official tea-lady.

Dot told many interesting tales of her time at ABC, and chuckled proudly as she relayed how she gained the attention of a high-ranking politician who was intent on not communicating with her. He was scribbling away, head bowed low when she tapped on the open door and offered, ‘Tea or coffee, Sir?’ He ignored her. She waited a moment and asked again. There was still no reply, so she cleared her throat and said slowly with emphasis, ‘Tea..? or… Coffee..? Sir’. He grunted. She repeated the slow questions twice, with only a grunt in return the first time and a gruff ‘Yes’ the next. Dot quickly fetched his brew and delivered it with a smile, which he missed because he still didn’t look up.

While she was serving her next, more convivial recipient, she heard spluttering and then demands of, ‘Come here, Woman!’ from the politician’s room.

‘Yes, Sir’, she said, approaching him professionally.

‘What is in this?’ he snapped, pointing at the cup on his desk.

‘Tea and coffee, Sir’, she said with a dead-pan face. ‘I asked if you wanted tea or coffee and you said yes, so I gave you both, Sir…’

Dot was especially proud to have been one of the inspirations behind the television character Aunty Jack, created and played by Grahame Bond in the early seventies. Aunty Jack’s favourite line, ‘I’ll rip yer bloody arms off!’ was a direct reflection of Dot’s regular threat when someone was about to put a wet spoon into the sugar bowl. When cups weren’t returned, she warned the offenders they were risking broken arms. The celebration cake at Dot’s farewell party was in the shape of an arm torn from the shoulder and covered with ‘blood’ – strawberry jam, I believe.

Dot was a character in more ways than one. Her stories whisper through the memories of those who knew her. The plaque on the wall in the cafeteria on the Dot Strong Terrace reminds those who relax and dine there of the many times Dot’s trolley rattled down the corridors of the old building, and the good-nature with which she served over two-million cuppas across more than two decades.

These two claims to fame were quite an achievement for the unassuming, hard-working woman off the land who’d taken drastic measures to survive.

Dot never lost her sense of humour no matter what the world threw at her. She just ‘got on’ with her lot and lived a routine kind of life, serving her fellow-workers day-in and day-out. Yet she brought out the best in most people she met and found ways to influence others.

I like to think of her as an extraordinary ordinary person, but she didn’t like praise. ‘I’m just a simple country girl, itching to get back to Dubbo to open a little café’, she told me, when I complimented her on her achievements.

I walked away from interviewing Dot energized and ready to take on the world. I wasn’t sure how, but it seemed nothing was impossible.

 

Watch this space for more stories of inspiring people and other musings…